Ben Foakes: I’m not a ‘Bazball’ player but I still fit in with England

Ben Foakes: I’m not a ‘Bazball’ player but I still fit in with England

The ice to England’s fire, Ben Foakes is revelling in the role of the side’s calm head after fearing there would not be space for him in the era of ‘Bazball’.

Foakes’s England career has been stop-start. 19 Tests, spread over four-and-a-half years, have been split into three distinct periods.

A five-Test run in 2018 was followed by a two-year absence, before his second opportunity in 2021 was brought to a cruel end as he suffered a freak injury after slipping in the Surrey dressing room. It would be another year before he played for England again.

Even now, with Foakes well into chapter three of his England career, a stint that has been his most successful in the side, he missed one Test in Pakistan due to illness and a second due to a smog-related tactical decision; an unusual omission that was even harder for Foakes to accept as he was forced to lend his wicketkeeping gloves to his great friend and understudy Ollie Pope, who had not taken his own on tour.

Speaking after his crucial second-innings half-century had helped set up England’s 267-run win over New Zealand, Foakes said: “My England journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster from day one. I’ve had a lot of times out of the team where I’ve thought about how I get back in and things like that.”

Foakes has performed the role of designated driver across this intoxicating period. Under Brendon McCullum, he averages 43.66, with a strike-rate of 51.43, figures that pale in comparison to men such as Harry Brook, whose strike-rate is almost double, at 96.88.

Vital contribution: Ben Foakes helped secure England’s 267-run win over New Zealand (AFP via Getty Images)
Vital contribution: Ben Foakes helped secure England’s 267-run win over New Zealand (AFP via Getty Images)

Foakes is an entirely un-Bazballian player, and with the return of Jonny Bairstow on the horizon, he is playing with a target on his back, as England look to work out how to fit their star man into a batting line-up that Stuart Broad says is the strongest in a decade.

“I can’t do what a lot of these guys do,” Foakes conceded. “If I did that from ball one, I’d just get out, so it doesn’t make sense for me to try. Quite a few of the games I’ve contributed in, have been more in the role of batting normally and in more pressurised situations, where you can’t lose a wicket.”

Foakes’s self-assessment is correct. Over the past eight months he has been exceptional, with vital, understated, contributions dotted throughout the headline-grabbing fireworks that have surrounded him.

A crucial 32 not out against New Zealand last summer guided England home by five wickets, before a century against South Africa two months later was followed up with his perfectly-paced 50 in Mount Maunganui last week, an innings that allowed England to bowl under the lights on day three and secure victory.

“I think steadying it among the carnage can work sometimes,” Foakes said of how his style fits into the England set-up. “[It’s still] playing with freedom, but doing it in a way you feel comfortable.”

Foakes’s success in this side is testament to the truth of the “freedom” that England talk of playing with. For much of the new McCullum era, freedom has become synonymous with just smacking it, rather than being allowed to play your natural game.

“Definitely,” Foakes replied, as to whether he feared his style of play may see him lose his place in the side. “I’m not, as you’d say, ‘Bazball’. So I was kind of thinking, ‘how am I meant to go about this?’ But it hasn’t been, ‘you have to try and hit every ball for six’; it’s been, ‘play your way, but if you think the option is on, go for it’.

“I think this is, arguably, the best time to be a Test cricketer for England, so if you can’t enjoy it now, then you’re never going to.”